Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you. (Matthew 5:11-12)
The prophets of the Old Testament had a pretty tough lot. I am full of admiration for them but I certainly wouldn’t have like to have lived in their day, or swapped places. For starters, God made them do some pretty unpleasant things as they acted out the people’s rebellion towards God. Hosea was told to marry a prostitute (Hosea 1:2), Ezekiel had to lay on his side for 390 days and cook food over poo (Ezekiel 4:4) and Jonah spent 3 days in a fish’s stomach (although he could have avoided that one if he’d done what he was told)
Chapter 11 of Hebrews tells us just a few things that happened to the prophets in the Old Testament…
Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, so that they might rise again to a better life. Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated of whom the world was not worthy wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth. (Hebrews 11:35-38)
The bible doesn’t record everything about the lives (and deaths) of the Old Testament prophets, but what it does reveal, added with some extra biblical manuscripts, is that they indeed lived pretty tough lives.
One ancient book containing quite a lot of information, was called ‘The lives of the prophets’. Being an ancient book, it cannot be proved as entirely reliable but was apparently compiled from various oral and written sources and its stories are repeated in Christian and Jewish manuscripts.
The book begins by explaining its basic purpose, which was to provide The names of the prophets, where they were from, and other basic information about them. The prophets with the largest books are first: Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Daniel. Followed by the 12 minor prophets and then others (who didn’t have books named after them) Nathan, Elijah, Elisha and others.
I’m just going to list these prophets very briefly and what was believed to have happened to them.
Isaiah. It was reported that he was the prophet who was sawn in two under the evil King Manasseh of Judah. A tradition is preserved that the miraculous powers of the waters of the Pool of Siloam (see John 9) were initiated as a result of Isaiah’s prayer.
Jeremiah. Having escaped death several times previously, Jeremiah was later stoned to death by “his people” at Taphnai in Egypt and buried in honour near Pharaoh’s palace, because his prayers had delivered the Egyptians from poisonous snakes and other plagues. His relics were reportedly moved to Alexandria and placed in a circle around the city, which was consequently likewise protected from asps and crocodiles.
Ezekiel. This great prophet is said to have died in Babylonia where “the leader of the Israelite exiles” killed him after being reproved for worshiping of idols. That was one explanation, the other was that he was killed by an unidentified member of either the tribe of Dan or Gad, who had blamed him for cursing their children and flocks.
Daniel.This prophet was apparently unmarried, a “chaste man,” whom the Jews of his day believed to be a eunuch. He is reported to have died of natural causes and was buried with great honour in the royal tombs of Babylon.
Hosea. Not too much was known about his life but it was believed he died of natural causes.
Micah. Was reported to have been killed by Joram of Israel, the son of King Ahab, but this is unlikely as Micah lived more than a century after Joram’s reign. They were probably confusing him with Micaiah, who was indeed a thorn in Ahab’s side (1 Kings 22:1)
Amos.This northern prophet was tortured severely by Amaziah, the priest of Bethel, against whom Amos had prophesied. He was then mortally wounded with a club by Amaziah’s son. Amos was able to make his way back to his own district of Tekoa, where he soon died and was buried there.
Joel. Died in peace and was buried in the territory of Reuben.
Obadiah. Not too much known.
Jonah. He reportedly lived during the time of Elijah. The fact that the text here mentions Elijah’s resurrection of a widow’s son may be the source of a rabbinical tradition that this child was Jonah. In any case, after his time at Nineveh, Jonah traveled with his mother and lived among the Gentiles, feeling embarrassed because, “I spoke falsely in prophesying against the great city of Nineveh.” Returning to the land of Judah after the famine of Elijah’s day, Jonah buried his mother near Deborah’s Oak and was himself buried in the cave of Kenaz, the relative of Caleb.
Nahum. Probably based on the Book of Nahum’s prophecies concerning Nineveh, Nahum is described as Jonah’s successor as God’s prophet of doom to that city. Nahum predicted that the city would be destroyed by fresh water and an underground fire. Unlike the embarrassed Jonah, Nahum spoke truly, as the author reports that the lake which surrounded Nineveh inundated it during an earthquake, and a forest fire spread to the upper city. Nahum, too, died in peace and was buried in his own district.
Habakkuk. This prophet fled from Jerusalem in the face of Nebuchadnezzar II’s advance and lived in exile “in the land of Ishmael.” He later went to Babylon, where he was acquainted with the prophet Daniel.
Zephaniah. The book which bears his name is very briefly summarized and it is reported that “he died and was buried in his field.”
Haggai. This prophet came from Babylon to Jerusalem, as a youth and witnessed the rebuilding of the Temple. He was buried in honour in the tomb of the Jewish priests.
Zechariah. He returned to Jerusalem from Babylonia as an old man and became a very active prophet in the holy city. It was he who named Shealtiel’s son Zerubbabel and blessed him. The text claims that Zechariah had earlier prophesied the victories of Cyrus the Great of Persia and his role in allowing the Jews to return and rebuild Jerusalem. He died at a great age and was buried near Haggai.
Malachi. A man of great piety and physical appeal, Malachi was given his name, which means angel, not by his parents but by his people. His prophecies were always confirmed on the same day by an angel of God. He died, apparently of natural causes, while still young.
Nathan. It was Nathan who taught King David the Law of Moses. He foresaw that David would sin with Bathsheba but was hindered from warning him by the Devil. Nathan died of natural causes when he was very old.
Ahijah. Hailing from Shiloh, Ahijah predicted that Solomon would sin against God and warned the king concerning his foreign wives. He also warned Jeroboam I not to “walk deceitfully with the Lord.” He was buried near the Oak of Shiloh mentioned in the story of Hosea.
Joad. This is the name given to the prophet of 1 Kings 13, who was attacked and killed by a lion after he rebuked Jeroboam I concerning the unauthorized altar at Bethel.
Elijah. Described as a descendant of Aaron, Elijah’s father, Shobach, had a vision of angelic figures wrapping his child in fire and feeding him with flames. Interesting considering how he was ‘taken’.
Elisha. As in the case of Elijah, some manuscripts summarize his activities as described in the Bible. At his death, Elisha was buried in the northern capital of Samaria.
Zechariah son of Jehoiada. This Zechariah was the high priest’s son who denounced his cousin, King Jehoash of Judah, and was immediately stoned to death in the Temple courtyard. He was buried with his father Jehoiada.
I’m going to spend one more week on persecution and next week look at some of the men and women throughout history who have suffered for their faith. There are some extraordinary characters.